Have you ever asked someone about their pregnancy only to find out that they weren't pregnant? I did it years ago at a party. I thought this woman told me that she and her husband were expecting. She didn't look terribly pregnant but she was also wearing one of those tent shirts where you can't really tell. Later I asked her when she was due. Let's just say she still won't talk to me. As a result, I won't ask women about their pregnancy unless they are in labor -- I'm just that scared.
That same fear and uncomfortableness is present in most mainstream media discussions of pregnancy. Talk about the overuse of euphemism! To euphemize is to substitute an agreeable or inoffensive expression for one that may offend or suggest something unpleasant. Which is how we get terms such as "termination of pregnancy" and "fetus." Fetus is from the Latin for "offspring" and simply means the unborn young. You may also recognize it as a word that is used by a microscopic percentage of pregnant women. Well, let's put that another way. Fetus is a more common term of use for babies that the parents don't want. Those that are wanted are called babies from the get go.
Anyway, sometimes the use of 'fetus' is ridiculously overdone. Let's take, for example, the heartbreaking story of an eight-months-pregnant woman who was killed when her uterus was cut open and her baby was stolen. I can hardly bear to think about it. The story was all over and news outlets struggled with how to describe the human that was stolen. As we read earlier, a fetus is an unborn baby. Even those untimely ripped from their mother's wombs, as this baby was, are born.
Verum Serum has a comprehensive, GetReligion-style list of headlines showing how the mainstream media treated the baby-snatching. Here are some of the headlines, beginning with Fox News:
Pregnant Massachusetts Woman Killed, Fetus Taken
Also Fox News:
Woman Suspected of Cutting Baby From Massachusetts Mom's Womb Held on $2M Bail
Mom-to-Be Darlene Haynes Killed, Cops Search for Her Fetus
Baby Cut From Slain Mom's Womb Found Alive
Slain Pregnant Woman Lived in Same Building With Accused Fetus-Stealer
Fetus-stealer? I can understand headline writers trying to drive home the point that this baby was taken from the mother's womb, but there are better ways to do that. Verum Serum has many more examples from the Boston Globe, CNN and others. There's also a discussion of what the use of these terms mean. The oddest example was probably this one from the Boston Herald:
Officials search hospitals for victim's fetus
No, they were looking for a baby, not a fetus. She was a baby when she was ripped from her mother's womb. She was a baby when she was kidnapped. And she was a baby when she was, thankfully, found safe.
Maybe it's just because I have a uterus and have had two children -- or maybe it's just because I think journalists should speak clearly and avoid euphemisms -- but it would actually be okay to call an unborn child one month from anticipated delivery what everyone else in the country does, too: a baby.